Tag Archives: North America

Where is America?

Saturday, February 15th, 2019, for Friday no. 19

Seven years ago now Caroline Winterer asked “Where is America in the Republic of Letters?[1], and the question is still too good not to be asked again. So where is America in my Republic of Letters? Until very recently it seemed to be quite absent. Only from the middle of the 19th century onwards American publications referring to my protagonists began appearing in my data, all in the context of scholarly research. But any contemporary entanglement seemed to be missing. Perhaps this does not come as a surprise so much as the question in how far the Republic of Letters covered America, which parts of it, and when. I am not going to tackle this question here, but I can present you now with some American instances of references to my protagonists before 1800. And the nature of these references may perhaps point to why it is complicated to uncover them today.

New Haven, Connecticut, 1760/1770


“A treatise on regeneration : By Peter Van Mastricht”, Preface, p. [1]-[2].

The first instance I came across was a reworked extract from Peter von Mastricht’s (1630-1706) Theologia theoretico-practica of 1682[2] which was printed in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1769/1770.[3] The anonymous translator and compiler was obviously concerned about theological discussion points current New Haven at the time, or at least he announced his treatise this way. While he had to elaborate upon “who this Doct. Van Mastricht is, and what the particular reasons are, for publishing the following treatise at this time”,[4] he added a substantial appendix to the work to buttress von Mastricht’s arguments with other Dutch and Scottish reformed theologians, with both of which he seems to have been very familiar.

His readers most probably were not as may be seen from his explanation of the denominational attributions in his text: “It should have been observed to the reader, that by the REFORMED, or the reformed church, foreign writers mean all denominations of Protestants, except the Lutherans (with respect to whom they are called reformed) and some heretical sects that have sprung up among them, as the Socinians, Arminians, &c”[5] In this section he took, amongst others, recourse to Johannes Braun in respect to the relation of the human will and divine grace, and devoted more than one entire page to quotes from Braun’s Doctrina Foederum[6]  of 1688.[7] At the end of the treatise there is one passage which might be taken as an indication that the translator/compiler had not acquired his theological knowledge locally in Connecticut: “This publication would have been rendered more compleat by quotations from Turretine and the doings of the famous Synod of Dort, had not the publisher been disappointed about procuring these books.”[8] He seems not to have had such problems with his Braunius, unless he was quoting from his collected excerpts.

Two tentative conclusions might be suggested as hypotheses for further enquiry by this piece of evidence: First, that such theological knowledge was still imported from abroad into North America in the late 1760s/early 1770s, and second, that some of the publications contributing to it may have been available there nevertheless. Drawing any conclusions as to the supposed origin of the translator/compiler is not possible though, as the second piece of evidence will show.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1789


Inglis, “A charge delivered”, p. 4.

In 1789 Charles Inglis (1734-1816), appointed Anglican bishop of Nova Scotia in 1787, concluded his visitation of his new diocese with a treatise printed as “A charge delivered to the clergy of the diocese of Nova Scotia.”[9] Inglis aimed at something quite similar as the translator/compiler of von Mastricht: Giving a group of people – in Inglis’ case the clergy of his diocesis – the proper arguments to solve theological and ecclesiastical problems right at hand. To do so, both utilized a quite similar stock of literature, and that is why – at present – no inference of the anonymous translator/compiler’s place of origin can be drawn from his treatise.

The Anglican bishop used a mixture of the same Calvinist authors garnished with some Presbyterians and other dissenters alongside more orthodox Anglican writers as the stock of his admonitions. A large part of his “charge” consisted of directions for a solid churchman’s library, as “[s]everal of the younger Clergy, having, at different times, expressed a desire to have a list of such Books as would be proper for a Clergyman’s Library; I have set down the following Catalogue, and hope it may be of service.”[10] And in this directions the bishop, too, included Johannes Braun, although not with one of his staple theological works but with his treatise on the vestments of the ancient Jewish temple priests.[11] And he also included Adrien Reland in his list, once directly, and once indirectly.[12]

Inglis, “A charge delivered”, p. 62: Two references to Adrien Reland.

That Inglis included Reland in his list is remarkable for two reasons: First, because it supports the notion that Reland’s 1714 work “Palaestina Illustrata” was the longer the 18th century lasted the more firmly labelled as a theological tract (which it not directly was), and second because of what Inglis himself had written down as his criteria for selecting the works on his list: “Perhaps it is needless to observe that I could have easily enlarged the number of Books under each head; those only are selected which appear to be most useful, and are easily procured; and I confine myself to such as treat of Theology, or that have an immediate connection with it.”[13]

Conclusions & hypotheses…

Not only was Reland’s work bundled up with Theology, it was also labelled as “easily procured” even in the context of Nova Scotia, as was Braun’s Vestitus Sacerdotum Hebraeorum. Inglis did not precisely state how these works would have been procured by his clergymen, and it would be tempting to try to check if they really did, if there are inventories of late 18th/early 19th century Nova Scotia Anglican clergymen available somewhere to do so. In any case the firm theological fixation of the works in question coupled them with the respective discourses, and when the issues in context of which they had been discussed faded from the debates of New England, I suppose that references to the works and via these to their authors will have followed suit. Which opens up a new theatre of investigations nevertheless.


[1] Caroline Winterer: Where is America in the Republic of Letters?, in: Modern Intellectual History 9, 2012, pp. 597–623; doi:10.1017/S1479244312000212.

[2]  Peter von Mastricht: Theoretico-Practica theologia: Qua, per Capita Theologica, pars dogmatica, elenchtica et practica, perpetua symbibasei conjugantur. Praecedunt in usum operis paraleipomena, seu Sceleton de optima concionandi method, Amsterdam: Boom & widow 1682.

[3] Anon: A treatise on regeneration : By Peter Van Mastricht, D.D. Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Francfort, Duisburgh, and Utrecht. Extracted from his system of divinity, called Theologia theoretico-practica; and faithfully translated into English; with an appendix, containing extracts from many celebrated divines of the Reformed Church, upon the same subject, New Haven: Thomas & Samuel Green 1769/1770.

[4] Ibid., p. [1].

[5] Ibid., p. 94. Emphases in the original.

[6] Johannes Braun: Doctrina foederum, sive Systema theologiae didacticæ & elencticæ, Amsterdam: Petrus van Someren, Groningen: Carel Pieman 1688.

[7] Anon: A treatise on regeneration 1770, p. 91-92.

[8] Ibid., p. 94.

[9] Charles Inglis: A charge delivered to the clergy of the diocese of Nova Scotia at the primary visitation holden in the town of Halifax, in the month of June 1788. By the Right Reverend Charles, Bishop of Nova Scotia, Halifax: Anthony Henry 1789.

[10] Ibid., p. 59.

[11] Ibid., p. 76; Johannes Braun: Bigdê kohanîm id est, Vestitus sacerdotum Hebræorum, sive Commentarius amplissimus in Exodi cap. XXVIII, ac XXIX. & Levit. cap. XVI. (2 vols.), Leiden: Doude/Elzevier 1680.

[12] Inglis: A charge delivered to the clergy 1789, p. 62; Thomas Lewis: Origines Hebrææ: the antiquities of the Hebrew republick : In four books. I. The origin of the Hebrews; their civil government; the constitution of the sanbedrim; forms of trial in courts of justice, &c. II. The ecclesiastical government; the consecration of the high-priests, priests, and levites. The revenue of the priesthood the sects among the Hebrews, pharisees, sadducees, essenes, &c. III. Places of worship. The use of high-places; a survey of the tabernacle, and the proseucha’s of the Hebrews. A description of the first temple from the scriptures, and of the second from the rabbinical writings. The sacred utensils. The institution of synagogues, &c. IV. The religion of the hebrews. Their sacrifices; and their libations. The burning of the red heifer, and ceremonies of purification. Their sacraments, publick fasts and festivals, &c. Design’d as an explanation of every branch of the levitical law, and of all the ceremonies and usages of the Hebrews, both civil and sacred. By Tho. Lewis, M.A (3 vols.), London: Samuel Illidge/John Hooke 1724-1725; Adrien Reland: Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata (2 vols.), Utrecht: Willem Broedelet 1714.

[13] Inglis: A charge delivered to the clergy 1789, p. 59.